Sunday, September 29, 2013

You can go crazy but you can't go toilet!

There's nothing that irritates me more than this strange fashion in Singapore of dropping the preposition in speech.  I first heard it a long time ago and it seems to be catching on today.  The first time I heard it was in a play school where I was seated with my son who was then a toddler next to a woman who also had her son with her.  The woman asked her son in a loud and offensively supercilious voice, "Would you like to go toilet?"  My son innocently asked me in a voice that was quite audible, "Is that right?" and without pausing for even a second to think, I immediately responded, "You can go crazy and you can go mad but you can't go toilet.  Never drop the preposition 'to'!  Remember that!"  From the corner of my eye, I could see the woman looking at me with rage but I felt she deserved it.  I would not have responded in that way if she had spoken less haughtily.

But I would never have expected that I should one day see this same thing in print.  In today's New Paper, there's an article which purports to be humorous and this sentence caught my eye:

I'll simplify the sentence for clarity - you may ignore the bit about wearing Crocs.  It's totally unrelated to the article and it was presumably inserted by the writer as his feeble attempt at humour.  The sense of the sentence is preserved if I reduce it to this: "The prison was where I was sent".  It is obvious that like the woman with her toddler in the play school, the writer of this article left out the preposition "to".  The natural question is why did he leave it out?

Sir Winston Churchill on the English language

At first blush, I thought the writer was averse to ending a clause with a preposition.  But that's something that countless grammarians from Fowler onwards have denounced as ridiculous.  The story is told that Winston Churchill was so infuriated with a subordinate who tried hard not to end his sentences with a preposition in a report that Churchill wrote in the margin of the report, "This is the kind of tedious nonsense up with which I will not put".

Of course there are instances when the preposition may be dropped.  Some direct objects may have a locative role.  A good example is "The policeman walked the streets".  The preposition "through" may in such an instance be dispensed with.  The same with "The horse jumped the fence".  "Over" is left out.  But notice that you can't do it in the passive voice.

Upon further reading, it will become clear to the reader that the writer of the article is just one of those who would drop their prepositions at the drop of a hat.  Here is another excerpt from his article:

The sentence now takes on a ludicrous meaning that the writer did not intend.  It tells me conclusively that the writer really has an allergy for prepositions and it has nothing to do with the all too common but misconceived fear of ending a sentence with a preposition.

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